Driving Tech Education in Foreign Lands

During my time in the Philippines, I noticed that internet cafés were particularly popular. People gathered there not just because they provided affordable Internet access, but because they embodied the strong sense of community imbedded at the heart of Filipino society.

Internet cafés acted as a digital gateway and a much-needed line of contact between families, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. It was a space for bonding and socializing that you don’t see very often. Seeing how everyone interacted made it apparent that Manilla needed more affordable spaces for people with keen interests to incorporate learning into their hobbies.

Access to the technological industry in the Philippines is under threat due to the lack of affordable education options. Many of the people that frequented the internet café did not see a future in technological education. For them it seemed that the height of their achievement would be the same as previous generations.

The best way to break this cycle was to provide access to education, and further technological understanding to the bright sparks that sought comfort in the digital oasis of internet Cafés. The rapidly growing IT industry in the Philippines meant that opportunities would open up faster than previously imagined to those with the right knowledge and a determined mindset. All that was missing was the right knowledge.

In order to foster an environment that could provide the tools required to break into the IT industry, my partner and I opened a learning center that offered computing education to local children.

The center started off simply as a video game café divided into two parts. The first part consisted of a space for children to play video games at a subsidized price, or in exchange for one hour of study. The second part was free access to computers, so long as homework or study was done without the distraction of video games. It was unsurprising that access to computers quickly piqued the children’s natural curiosity, and before long they were asking more about computers: how they were set up, and the careers that came with them. This quickly turned into a scheduled teaching timetable every Tuesday, Thursday and on the weekends.

The lessons were extremely popular, and the teaching computers were full every session, prompting the children to ask if they could repurpose the gaming computers to study instead! It was only a matter of months until they were learning Java and even designing their own websites.

For many, breaking into the cybersecurity industry can feel like a direct road without a starting point. Despite interest and enthusiasm from aspiring IT specialists, there does not seem to be an obvious path into the industry.

The daunting Mobius dimensions of the cybersecurity industry can be traced not only to extortionate and elitist educational establishments, but also to the countless companies that fail to offer a clear career trajectory, even for entry level jobs. There is a solution to this self-made problem, and it lies within the industry.

Fanning a bright spark into a professionally driven flame can be as simple as offering encouragement to someone that needs it most. It only takes a moment to point someone with a keen interest to the starting point of a career and this can make all the difference.

We are still in the golden age of cybersecurity and there are endless job opportunities for those that know where to look. However, the biggest problem is that a lot of companies are not aware that these positions exist.

While this may seem discouraging to an inexperienced cybersecurity hopeful, with the right attitude and knowhow it provides the opportunity to define and lead newly established departments within a company. It doesn’t just stop there, for the adventurous, an education in cybersecurity opens the possibility of international travel as there is a shortage of relevant IT skills in most countries.

In my experience, and from the people that I have met with, we have noticed the growing IT skills gap. The demand for relevant skills is increasing daily, providing an opportunity for learning, and a doorway into the world of cybersecurity. Looking at past trends, and gauging the current cybersecurity landscape, I don’t expect the skill gap to catch up any time soon; unless we become more involved in educating, helping to share and filling these needs. 

As for my students in the Philippines, they have maintained their enthusiasm, applying for jobs in IT departments and continuing their studies both individually and within peer study groups. In the meantime, they keep themselves busy by searching for and disclosing security risks found within corporate infrastructure in their own time.

They pride themselves in pushing for a higher focus on security, highlighting the growing need for internal security departments. This will hopefully lead to full-time positions as security specialists as the younger generation begin to define cybersecurity standards in the Philippines.

As internal security departments begin to place more faith in students, offering life changing internships opportunities, we will surely see an increased number of job roles as full-time cybersecurity professionals.

Graduating in 2018 with a Digital Forensics and Cyber Security honours degree from Technological University in Dublin, James currently works as an information security consultant at ‘full-stack’ Vulnerability Management Security as a Service (SaaS) solution provider, Edgescan. He enjoys participating in participated in capture the flag (CTF) competitions, and has certification sin OSCP and OSWP Offensive Security.  

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